Gibraltar? I Hardly Knew Her!
By Wil Forbis
All kinds of writing has appeared in Acid Logic over the years but I have to admit this web site has been bereft of travel articles. (The only one I can think of is The Acid Logic Guide to Europe.) Recently, as I was sitting around pontificating about my next piece, I thought, why not write about Gibraltar? My girlfriend and I had just visited the famed Mediterranean rock and I felt I could talk semi-intelligently about it.
Why would one visit Gibraltar? Well, it has an interesting mishmash of cultures; Spaniards, Englishmen and Arabs have all exacted their influence. It has breathtaking views from high vistas and nice beaches nearby. ItÖ MONKEYS, MONKEYS, IT HAS MONKEYS!!! EVERYWHERE MONKEYS!
Ahem. This is true. At the top on the rock of Gibraltar are troops of macaque monkeys. (Iíve read conflicting reports as to how the monkeys got there. Some blame English soldiers, others the earlier Moors.) Not only are the monkeys there, they are within plain sight. You take a cable car to the top of the rock and are instantly greeted by shambling, leaping, grey-furred gremlins. (Like most animals, they donít seem particularly interested in humans though I did see two leap on a British tourist who was quite content to keep calm and carry on.)
Is Gibraltarís only appeal its monkeys? At first glance it would appear so as other charms are hard to find. We initially walked in from the Spanish border town of La Linea (where most budget conscious travelers stay; its hotel rates are much better) and found ourselves in a densely packed forest of hotels and uninteresting buildings. With a bit of footwork we made our way to Grand Casemates square which is kind of the commercial hub of the city, filled with over-priced restaurants (including innumerable fish and chips places) and coffee shops. I was beginning to wonder, ďIs this it?Ē
Jutting off from the square are several quintessential old Europe corridors---cobblestone streets that run in the shadow of the rock. (To be honest, I canít recall if they were actually cobblestone, but they certainly had that vibe and were limited to foot traffic.) Down these streets you head south and can reach the office of the cable car service that will take you to the top of the rock. (You can also bus to the office as Gibraltar has a very effective bus system that accepts both Euros and the Gibraltar pound.)
Itís here, near the cable car office, that some of Gibraltarís other attractions are revealed. Thereís a huge garden right out of Alice in Wonderland nestled away amongst brick buildings. We were fortunate enough to get there at dusk when the garden takes on an ethereal, dreamy quality. And not far from that is the Trafalgar cemetery which we first viewed on the eve of Halloween.
I was, before arriving in Gibraltar, not well informed as to its history. I knew it was some sort of British territory, and knew that the Mediterranean sea passage it overlooks was important during World War II. (This information came from several viewings of the German submarine epic, Das Boot.) But that was the extent of my knowledge.
In fact, Gibraltar has a very ancient history. Remains of Neanderthals have been found, and for over a thousand years the land was trod upon by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals and Visigoths. (That sounds like a great band name.) In 711 A.D. the Arab army of Tariq ibn Ziyad took control and maintained Islamic rule for several centuries until Spanish speaking forces wrestled the rock away. Ultimately, the English took ownership in 1713 and maintained strict control until 1967 when Gibraltar earned some sovereignty and became a Special Member Territory of the U.K. Bickering over the land between the Brits and Spanairds continues to this day.
You are scarcely aware of this political turmoil as you travel the territory, and certainly not when you climb to the top of its rock. You can ascend either by cable car or van, or simply walk (though it would probably take over an hour to get to the top by foot.) Part way up, on the north end, are the remains of a Moorish castle that date back to over a thousand years ago. Itís actually quite a fascinating stop, filled with windy stairs, cavernous nooks, and a great view of the city from the stop. Continuing upward you can stop at two tunnels that were, at different periods, carved out of rock for military purposes. We saw one. (These tourist attractions start to get pricey.) If you keep going you will eventually hit the ďbaseĒ at the top of the mountain that serves as the final stop for the cable car. Thereís a restaurant there and, as mentioned before, many monkeys.
On the particular day we got to the top, it was quite cloudy and we could only catch glimpses of the sea below. (I remember thinking the place had the feel of a Scottish Moor.) But we did see some fascinating behavior on the part of seagulls. Winds were hitting the east facing wall of the rock and then turning upward. The gulls seemed to be riding these waves of air in such a way that they could sit in space, floating. And Iím fairly sure they were doing this air surfing simply for the fun of it, as a form of sport.
Also worth noting: Gibraltar is about an hour by bus from the Spanish town of Tarifa which is itself a short ferry ride to the Moroccan city of Tangier. We did only a day trip to Tangier; in hindsight it would have made sense to stay overnight to give ourselves a bit more time.
So, while Gibraltar isn't the most obvious destination in Europe, it's worth a look for its somewhat hidden charms.
Did I mention it has monkeys?
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Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.orgVisit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.